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5 things you (probably) didn't know about the Vancouver Aquarium

Did you know this is the oldest public aquarium in Canada?
Clockwise from top left: Mayor Fred Hume and Minister of Fisheries James Sinclair open the Vancouver Aquarium, Steller sea lions Natoa and Rogue, then-Mayor Mike Harcourt along with Tillicum the Otter and Bee Bop Beluga, kids whach a sea lion underwater at the aquarium.

The Vancouver Aquarium isn't just an iconic site in the city, but also a notable institution in the world of marine biology.

As the oldest public aquarium in Canada and one of the most popular worldwide, it has influenced both the public's perception of marine life and research on life below the ocean's surface.

It's also evolved over time, as ideas around marine life and captive animals evolved. When it displayed its first captive orca, the species was considered a dangerous pest. While Moby Doll's life and death was tragic, it was also essential in changing how people thought of them (as recently as the 1970s many orcas captured in nearby Puget Sound had scars from bullet wounds as fishermen had been encouraged to shoot them the scare them away from the humans' catch).

The aquarium itself has had a colourful and varied history, and here are five things that happened during its 67 years.

1. Baby Beluga was inspired by an aquarium resident

To many Canadians, Raffi is an essential piece of their childhood, with many of his songs sung by kids for the last 50 years.

One of his most successful songs is Baby Beluga, a song inspired by Kavna, who lived at the Vancouver Aquarium for decades.

Raffi met her in 1979 (and even apparently got a kiss from her), and a year later Baby Beluga (the album and the song) hit record stores.

2. The executive director committed a royal no-no in his excitement to show the Queen a sloth

When one is hosting royalty, there are certain rules and guidelines that one must follow. Included in this royal protocol is "no pointing."

In March, 1983, on a trip to Vancouver, Queen Elizabeth visited the aquarium, and while executive director Murray Newman had been told about the rule, he broke it.

"While conducting the tour he forgets this royal protocol in his excitement to show her a sloth in a tree," writes aquarium spokesperson Todd Hauptman in an email to V.I.A.

3. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's grandfather cut the ribbon to open it

Trudeau's family's history in politics stretches back further than his father, Pierre, being Prime Minister first.

On his mother's side is James Sinclair, who was a Metro Vancouver MP for 18 years and Minister of Fisheries for five. That's why he was one of the guests at the opening of the Vancouver Aquarium in 1956, which had received funding from all levels of government as Canada's first public aquarium.

Also on hand was his 7-year-old daughter Margaret, who'd go on to marry Pierre.

4. Nippy, a northern fur seal, was the first Marine Mammal Rescue patient

The Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR) program at the Vancouver Aquarium is the only one of its kind in Canada, and has been running nearly as long as its host.

The program got its start in 1960, and its first patient was an unusual one: Nippy, a northern fur seal, caught by a fisher.

He was brought to the aquarium and nursed back to health, the first of many success stories. Now the rescue centre gets about 150 patients a year, with the vast majority making their way back to the wild. Oddly enough, the MMR didn't see another northern fur seal until 2017.

5. In 1997 the aquarium's curator discovered a new species of shrimp

While new species of animals are discovered all the time, what's odd about aquarium curator Danny Kent's discovery in 1997 was that he found a shrimp that was completely new to science that was brightly coloured and in a regular visited region.

The sparkling shrimp (it's in the prawn family) — due to its colours — is found in the waters of B.C., though its range and how many there are is unclear.